Mellivora capensishoney badger

Geographic Range

The ratel is found all across Africa, the Middle East, and India, but it does not live in deserts where the climate is hot and arid, and nor in equatorial jungles that are too wet and too dense. (Killingly and Long, 1983)

Habitat

The ratel exists mostly in temperate climates, and not in overtly hot and arid, or wet and dense ones, such as jungles and deserts. (Neal, 1986. Killingly and Long, 1983)

Physical Description

The ratel's head and body are, on average, 0.8 meters (2.4 feet) in length with the tail up to 0.3 meters (.9 feet) long. On average, the female is only slightly smaller than the male. The ratel is black, with a white stripe that originates just above the eyes and terminates at the tip of the tail, covering nearly the entire width of the back, from shoulder to shoulder. (Killingly and Long, 1983; Rosevear, 1974)

  • Range mass
    9 to 12 kg
    19.82 to 26.43 lb

Reproduction

Though mating may not be strictly reserved for a specific season, it usually occurs in September and October. After a gestation period of around six months, one to four cubs, usually two, are born in April or May. The cubs are hairless, blind, and lack the coloration of the adult ratel. Because the animal is so secretive very little is known about its reproduction. (Neal, 1986. Rosevear, 1974)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
    2
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    180 days
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

The ratel is generally a solitary animal but it has also been observed in small groups. These groups usually consist of about three members, most likely families . Ratels are nomadic and have a large home range. They are very secretive and usually nocturnal, hunting at night. When threatened, a ratel usually attacks and has even been known to attack human hunters and cars. Ratels, especially wounded ones, secrete foul scented anal secretions to discourage enemies. Probably the most intriguing aspect of ratel behavior is its symbiotic relationship with the honey guide. The honey guide will lead a ratel to a beehive and wait for the ratel to expose the desired parts. The ratel eats the honey and leaves the larvae and wax, as well as hard to get at honey, for the bird to consume. (Rosevear, 1974. National Geographic, 1981)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

As a predator, the ratel uses its quickness to run down much of its prey. It attacks even poisonous snakes, relying on its shaggy coat to protect it from harm. Squat and muscular, the ratel is ready for battle, having been known to attack animals much larger than itself such as the African buffalo, the gnu, or waterbuck. The ratel is omnivorous. It is most often observed consuming small reptiles, rodents, birds, insects and even carrion but it also eats fruits, berries, roots, plants, and eggs. Ratels frequently attack bee hives, to eat the stored honey and larval bees. This habit has resulted in the evolution of a mutualistic relationship between the ratel and the greater honey guide bird, Indicator indicator, which eats honey, larvae, and wax from bee hives. (Killingly and Long, 1983; Neal, 1986)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • roots and tubers
  • fruit

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The ratel keeps down the population of disease carrying rodents and annoying insects. In the past, pelts have been sold for their attractiveness. (Killingly and Long, 1983)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Some ratels have attacked domestic sheep for food. Ratels can also be harmful to humans when frightened. (Killingly and Long, 1983)

Conservation Status

The ratel has a wide range, but it is rare in this homeland. As a nomadic predator, its need for lots of space makes it threatened in areas of human development. This threat has been answered by some governments with laws of protection. In Israel, killing a ratel is punishable by imprisonment. Some scientists, however, question the reliability of some of these claims. It can be hard to track an animal with such a wide home range who is also secretive and nomadic. This could be why so few of these animals are ever spotted. (Killingly and Long, 1983. National Geographic, 1981)

Contributors

Cortney Hiller (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

References

Killingly and Long, 1983. The Badgers of the World. Charl C. Thomas, Springfield, Illinois.

National Geographic Book of Mammals. The National Geographic Society, 1981. Vol 2, pg 242.

Neal, Ernest, 1986. The Natural History of Badgers. Croom Helm London & Sydney, London.

Neal and Cheeseman, 1996. Badgers. University Press, Cambridge.

Rosevear, D. R., 1974. The Carnivores of West Africa. Trustees of the British Museum, London.